Many of us spend a lot of our time developing our physical strength. We are inspired to work out, to build a strong, athletic body—but is being strong the only sign of our true personal power? What if physical force was only one aspect of power? What if we could find a way to truly feel we are powerful in a way that includes all aspects of who we are—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual?
Look at our top athletes. Can a gymnast win Olympic gold with pure strength alone? No, he/she needs focus and grounding as well as a strong body. Can a wrestler succeed only with brute force? No, he/she needs flexibility, both physical and mental, to really achieve. So, let's reframe power. Let's say that in order to be truly powerful, you will need to have not only physical strength and courage, but will also need to develop focus, grounding, and flexibility with the same amount of effort and diligence.
Focus ensures that all your power and efforts have the impact you would like, as well as overcoming all the distractions. It requires concentration, diligence, and precision. What is the benefit of developing strength, intelligence, or talents if you can't find a way to channel it into something productive? How effective is your weight training if you are not zeroing in on the muscle group you are working on?
If you look closely, you will see that these qualities all have a power of their own. Let's look at flexibility. There is a saying that comes from Taoism (the basis for many different styles of martial arts) that asks: "Which is stronger, a mighty Oak tree or a blade of grass?" And the answer is: "In a monsoon, the tree will break like a twig but the blade of grass will yield and remain standing." Here you see that while, in some instances, strength is called upon, in other situations the use of strength will only result in you snapping like a twig. Sometimes the one thing that will get you through a tough time is a bit of give and take. You can probably think of examples of this from your own life; and I can think of some episodes in past relationships where I really learned that lesson!
Grounding offers a different kind of power than either physical strength or flexibility. Grounding is a connection to the Earth, to others, and to a part of you that transcends your everyday view of yourself. By developing the power in grounding, you develop a sensitivity and sharper awareness of your surroundings, as well as a self-confidence that makes you less likely to be persuaded by others. You may be thinking: How is sensitivity a sign of strength? Well, think about the times when you "felt" something that couldn't be explained, acted on it, and then in hindsight realized you made the right choice. That is the strength of sensitivity that comes from grounding.
So here's the formula: True power means having proficiency in focus, grounding, strength, and flexibility. And the sign of a truly powerful person is someone who has developed all four equally. Think of the legs of a table. It doesn't matter how long the legs of the table are. What is important is that the four legs are the same size or the table will tip and teeter. The same is true for us. We are truly powerful in body, mind, and spirit when we have developed an equal level of skill in focus, grounding, strength, and flexibility. Actually, you might say that someone with a moderate yet equal development of all four qualities is ultimately more powerful than someone who is only physically strong.
Self-Assessment: Does Your Table Tilt?
Start with this question: What does your table look like? Is it stable? Wobbly? How much time have you devoted to developing each of the qualities? How focused are you? How grounded? How strong and how flexible? To find out, take a piece of paper and draw a table top. Then, draw each leg of your table, on each leg summarizing how you have developed one of the four qualities. Be honest. Have fun with it. Take a good look. When I do this with clients, they sometimes gasp in shock when they see what they have written.
If you are like me, you will see that your legs are different, resulting in a wobbly table. One leg may even be very short. The point is not to discourage you, but to offer you guidelines for what you would need to do to develop your own stable, personal power. For instance, if you feel that you excel in physical strength and lack focus, you may want to consider adding meditation and other concentration exercises to your routine. Or, if you feel you lack flexibility, you may want to take a look at how you are stretching your muscles and at how important it is for you to be "right." If we spend time on all four qualities and get them closer to an equal level of skill, we will become physically healthy, live our lives with confidence, have the relationships we desire, and feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction in all that we do.
Train Your Power: Preliminary Exercises
There are many approaches to developing the subtler levels of strength, flexibility, focus, and grounding. Let's start with some basic yet potent exercises to establish a solid foundation. Do these at home or work, or add them to your strength training routine. Don't underestimate their power. They may seem obvious when you read them, yet it is only in the repetition of an exercise that you begin to really understand its benefits and take it on as second nature.
1. Keep Still: Take five minutes to be still, with no distractions. Find a quiet room, or natural location—even the restroom at work if need be. You could do more than five minutes, but doing five minutes in a focused way is more beneficial than sitting in meditation for an hour thinking about your grocery list. Sit in a way that lets you be as still as possible in your joints and muscles. Try to keep your spine straight. Close your eyes, or lower your gaze to the floor in front of you. Notice your breath. Try not to do any technical breathing, just listen to what the body wants to do naturally. Then, starting with your feet, scan each part of your body. Focus on that part of the body until you have a sense that you can "feel" it, then move on to the next part. Do this until you reach your head.
It is up to you how you want to break down the body, but the more specific and detailed you are, the more benefits you will feel. Remember that some muscles are layered and run deep. This will help you to not only focus your mind, but it will also help you to get into your body and ground. When you are finished, take careful note of how you are feeling before you get up and go on with your day. This is a great exercise to do before a workout, because being more connected with your body makes your efforts more effective. Plus, it is a great exercise to do before an important meeting or when you especially need grounding and confidence.
2. Knee Bends: This one may seem easy, but when you start practicing it, you may be surprised at how often you don't do it. Here we go… bend your knees! Yes, that's it. When you do your next workout, make your knees your focus. If you run, are your knees slightly bent? Can you feel the contact of your feet with the floor? If you lift weights, can you do it with your knees slightly bent? The same thing when you stretch. And how about when you are just standing still? Your knees should always be slightly bent. If your knees are locked, you are cutting off vital energy, as well as hindering the flow of blood and oxygen, and you are putting a lot of pressure on fragile joints. By slightly bending your knees, you allow energy to flow, and you also allow the body to relax and release tension. You don't have to squat too deeply, just a slight bend to avoid the locking. When the knees can relax and yield, so can the rest of the body. In martial arts, this is essential in developing a strong relationship with the ground, leading to self confidence, a feeling of being supported, and a stronger sense of flexibility, both physically and in how you relate to others.
So, these are a couple of exercises to focus on to get started on developing your power. At first you may not see the effects, but the long-term benefits will permeate every part of your life. As we open to new ways of developing strength, we actually see how much power we already have. As we add mental focus, emotional flexibility, and spiritual grounding to our physical strength, we notice that things seem to flow, and we walk through our lives with more energy and ease. Now, who wouldn't want more of that?
About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and with his workshop, Respectful Confrontation, supports others in their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and various spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. For more info, visit www.joeweston.com.